“The Alienist” Review

Good morning, readers!

I will be frank when I say that I am not the fastest book reader. In fact, when I’m reading a book, it usually takes me several months to finish it. There’s work, there’s writing, cleaning, and paying bills… all of the other chores that make it difficult to find time to sit down and relax into a great book. It has been several years since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down. Well, my friends, I’ve recently read a book that was so thrilling and suspenseful, that I just COULD NOT put it down. I’d read for hours everyday just because I was so excited to find out what would happen next. That book, as you may have guessed, is “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr.

I’ve seen this book in many places and have always been intrigued by its cover art and the time period it was set in, 1896 New York City. Finally while browsing through a second hand bookshop down the road from me, I saw it again and knew that I had to buy it and read it.

I had just finished reading “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. It struck me as kind of coincidental that “The Alienist” should start only one year after the finish of that book. There is even mention of the murders of H.H. Holmes within the first chapter. It felt almost like a seamless transition from that book to this one.

The first thing that struck me in this book is Carr’s masterful use of the English language to describe his surroundings. While reading, I actually felt as if I was hurtling down the dark roads of a Victorian Era New York along side the main character, John Schuyler Moore.  Carr always makes sure that you can see, touch, smell, and hear the malevolent places that the characters visit, which heightens the terror even more for the reader.

I have to admit, too, that I fell deeply in love with the main characters of this novel within the first twenty pages. While reading about Dr. Laszlo Kriesler and John Moore, I was instantly and fondly reminded of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Kriesler is the brilliant alienist (or psychologist) who seems emotionally detached while Moore is very much disturbed by the killings. However, the two have their differences from Conan Doyle’s pair and its easy to see how their friendship has grown closer over the years. John, undoubtedly, was my favorite character. As a NY Times journalist, John’s contacts extend through out the city and having his press badge comes in handy on more than one occasion through the course o f the book. Sarah, John’s childhood friend and Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary at police headquarters, is a smart addition to the group and brings a necessary punch of feminine genius and feeling to the book. The Isaacsons are also a particular favorite of mine in the novel.

The subject matter is definitely dark. The story follows an unofficial investigation led by Kriesler, into the murders of young boys. Each one has been killed in a gruesome manner [one particular mutilation is that the eyes are missing]. The further revelation that the young boys are employed in brothels as transvestites, plunges this story into the snarls of some pitch black content. There are grisly scenes that are definitely not for some people. I, being a writer of horror, was actually surprised by a few of them, but it only reeled me in further because of the level of danger these characters now faced in trying to capture the killer of these boys.

The story takes you from the upper crust opera houses, down into dingy shacks and gloomy tenements, through shady brothels, and ominous asylums. At every part of the novel, you become a part of the investigation as you follow the characters as they use what were then very uncommon practices such as fingerprinting and psychological profiling to capture a serial murderer, bent on killing until someone makes him stop. This is a five star book in my rating and it immediately goes on my favorites list.

When I finished the book yesterday, my feeling of triumph was smudged by a feeling of sadness as well in that the adventure was over. Then, I discovered Carr had written a sequel. “The Angel of Darkness”. I’m ecstatic to hunt down that book and rejoin some of my favorite characters as they pursue another murderer.

While I search for the sequel, I’ve decided to read from one of my other favorite authors, Anthony Bourdain. I’d finished reading “Kitchen Confidential” in the spring and absolutely adored Bourdain’s tales of how he negotiated the food underworld from the beginning of his career up until about twelve years ago. Now, I’ve got “Medium Raw”. Bourdain wrote this 10 years after he finished “Kitchen Confidential” and much had changed in the food industry in that time. I already know it won’t be a disappointing read.

Tomorrow, I will be posting the potential cover image for “Aequitas”!

~KSilva